This was the first part of the 40’s decade! I had not cooked as my mother was always in charge and then I was off to the UK and a new life and a different diet!
The War is over! Looking forward to the new diet and knowing what real food tastes like. After a long and hard journey involving three military transport fights in unpressurised piston engined bombers and a long train journey, I arrived in Oswestry in Shropshire to stay with my in-laws until my husband could return from North Africa and return to civilian life. My in-laws were quite surprised to see me as communications were so difficult that I could not warn them of my arrival.
I had not slept in a bed for 24 hours and I was very tired. My mother in law sat me down in a large armchair and offered me a cup of “coffee”. A very strange brew made with Camp “Coffee”, however it was a hot drink and most welcome. I then had a nap and I was marched into the centre of town to collect a ration book. I was told that the rations were very small, but little did they know we had ration books too in Algeria, but the shops were empty and the ration books were only a piece of paper. After collecting my “book”, we went to a café for lunch. The menu consisted of faggots, chips and peas! A feast- real British food! It was market day and farmers came from Wales to sell their sheep and cattle and on that day I never heard a word of English in the town! I am terrified of cows and they were everywhere in the streets. Later on, we went to collect our “rations”, I remember seeing butter and cheese and having some later at “high tea”, If only we had some Welsh Lamb to eat! However the faggots were appreciated although I have never eaten any since that time.
My mother in law did the cooking and I did not have the chance to help. My cooking talents developed later when we came to live in Warwick in 1946. Then we lived in “digs” with some pre-war friends of my husband. There I was allowed to use the kitchen and Derick bought me a good Housekeeping cookery book to help me. Our “landlady” was an excellent cook and I learned a lot from her. Rationing was still in use but choice was getting better. My mother came to stay and was amazed to see olive oil sold only in Boots (the chemist). Also olives were unknown, so were peppers of every shade, aubergines, courgettes and all Mediterranean produce. These foods were our staple food before 1939 and I knew how to prepare them and cook them. Aubergines were only known as eggplants and courgettes were called small marrows. Meat was still rationed but I had a butcher who was very obliging and I could buy lamb hearts as well as lamb brains. He also kept excellent steaks and different delicacies.
I have a lot of my mother’s recipes, written over the years when we still wrote letters. Some were well tried by her and I have used them often i.e.
Couscous, Pasta (noodles or ravioli), Beans –cooked for salads, Italian spinach pie, Aubergines au gratin, Pot au feu, Potee, Chauroute
She also brought various Kitchen equipment and gadgets which were not available then in the UK and plastic utensils had not appeared i.e.
Moulin a Legume, Rape a Fromage
Chopper for veg, scrapper instead of plastic.
Although the war is over there are still lots of shortages and rationing is still going on in the early 50’s. The housewives’ still use egg powder, ugh! And margarine instead of butter. Yet people made cakes and invented and try new recipes. Television has not yet come to every house but eventually the first British cooks/chefs demonstrated their talents and cookery books filled the shops. The TV chefs wore glamorous evening clothes whereas now they are happy to wear whites and chefs hats.
My 3 recipes from my mother are
- Pot au Feu
- Blanquette de Veal
- Gateau de Semoule
Pot au Feu – A soup as well as a main course
Originally this was peasant food which was cooked in an iron pot over an open fire, but not in my lifetime!
Stewing Beef – shin is best, together with a good marrow bone
4 Sticks of celery or a piece of celeriac
Salt and pepper to taste
Dice beef and vegetables and add to lots of hot water and cook on a low heat for as long as possible (at least 2 to 3 hours). The strained broth can be used as a clear soup, or with the vegetables pureed in a food processor as a thick soup, or served as cooked with the meat as a main course. If the soup is made the meat can be eaten cold with a sharp sauce, for example vinaigrette plus chopped gherkins, shallots, parsley. Alternatively the meat can be minced and used as a base for a cottage pie.
Blanquette de veal
Veal was not available in Africa, so my mother used lamb instead as I do myself, using lean lamb fillet.
Cook the lamb (diced) in a little oil, add chopped onion and herbs and cover with water and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for an hour. Before serving use some of the meat juices. Stir in a little flour and just before serving add a beaten egg and the juice of a lemon in the sauce. Heat but do not boil or the sauce will curdle.
Delicious! Serve with any vegetables and potatoes or rice. Do not let the meat go brown after all it is called “Blanquette”
Gateau de Semoule
Not a cake but a beautiful dessert served cold. Use semolina and cook in milk and stir well. Use either real vanilla or lemon zest for favour. When the semolina is cooked, beat in 2 beaten eggs with the semolina. Make a caramel with sugar and water until golden. Pour caramel in a mould and pour the semolina mixture onto it. Cook in a bain-marie for an hour. Allow to cool -this may be made a day before eating.
No one realises that this is made with Semolina- nothing like school semolina pudding!
A few years ago, couscous appeared in restaurants all over the UK, but it is not only the “grain” which is the base of couscous. Again, I love the real dish as it was prepared by my mother long ago. It is a type of stew, the Algerians used lamb as a base, but we only made it with beef at home. Its is not unlike Pot au feu with the addition of chick peas, cardoons ( a type of artichoke ) and pumpkin. The grain was not cooked in water, but steamed over the stew, hence the delicate flavour in the grain. It took a long time to prepare and cook but well worth while!
It is impossible to make it in small quantities so it is best made for 6/8 people- I cannot give exact quantities.